Members of Parliament have passed a motion, advanced by the Bloc Québécois, that supports Quebec’s plan to amend the Canadian Constitution so that it declares the province a nation, with French as its only official and common language.
The proposed constitutional amendment is one of several measures contained in Bill 96, a piece of Quebec legislation aimed at bolstering the use of French. The bill, which is subject to review and passage by the province’s National Assembly, invokes the Canadian Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to shield itself from court challenge.
On Wednesday, the motion supporting Bill 96′s constitutional amendment passed with 281 MPs present voting for it, and two against.
The two opposed were Independent MP Derek Sloan, a former member of the Conservative party, and Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former Liberal justice minister.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said in a recent Twitter post that political partisanship and “pandering” led lawmakers “to abandon core legal norms” and avoid debating constitutional issues, and that parties’ deference to the Bloc was “dismaying.”
She was commenting on an earlier Bloc motion, tabled on May 26, that required unanimous support from MPs because it was advanced without official notice. Wednesday’s motion was tabled with notice, so it could be approved with a straight vote by MPs.
After Wednesday’s vote, Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet said passage of the motion sets a marker for the importance of French regardless of what the future holds.
“This is quite important,” he told a news conference.
Representatives of parties largely supported the motion. “What is the point of tabling a motion on something that everyone agrees on?” Quebec New Democrat Alexandre Boulerice asked in the House.
But Mr. Blanchet took issue with concerns raised by Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather earlier this week during debate on the motion.
Mr. Housefather expressed concerns about Quebec’s planned use of the notwithstanding clause to shield Bill 96 from legal challenge. He also voiced resignations about where the legislation leaves Quebec’s English-speaking community, in terms of their access to government services in English.
“This would include people who came to Quebec from the United States or other English-speaking countries, and even Holocaust survivors in their nineties who have been part of the English-speaking community since arriving in Canada over 70 years ago,” he said.
He also raised concerns about Quebec’s planned use of the notwithstanding clause in an “omnibus and pre-emptive way” that would prevent Quebeckers from arguing fundamental Charter rights are being breached by the drive to enact Bill 96.
Asked about Mr. Housefather’s remarks, Mr. Blanchet said, on Wednesday, that if being an English-speaking person in Quebec is so terrible, he would invite the MP to visit French-speaking communities elsewhere in Canada and compare the situations.
“He would find our beloved English community in Quebec is very well treated, and it has to be so. They are a powerful contribution to our culture.”
Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez was supportive of Quebec’s plans earlier this week. He said the federal government is planning measures to protect French.
“As a Quebecker and a Canadian, I am very concerned about the decline of French and so is the government,” he said. “Allow me to make clear that the federal government wants to protect and promote French,” he told Parliament on Tuesday.
He said that planned reforms will not curtail the rights of the Quebec anglophone minority.
The Canadian Press
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